Monday, 30 November 2009


Thursday 26 November: India's fragrant capital with it's great Red Fort in the old town and Jama Mosque, India's largest, with it's climbable minaret overlooking the fort.
In New Delhi the National Museum in Janpath has fine galleries. The
exquisite Dancing Girl (2,7000-2,000 BC) from the Harappan Civilisation, bronze Standing Buddha (2 AD), Kushan Dynasty, the seductive looking terracotta Ganga with her water pot (5 AD) and the bronze Vishnu in his wheel were among my favourites, together with the gruesome weapons and fantastic red, blue and gold feather earrings.
Away from the hub-bub of traffic near Delhi Gate the peacefulness and tranquility of Humayun's Tomb was a welcome surprise, even the much smaller Isa Khan Tomb in the same complex was a delight.
Next day the old fort - Purana Qala - spoiled a bit for me by the vodofone boating lake (the locals love it) has impressive gateways and trees, and at Gandhi Smri you can trace the great man's last steps, literally.
I always used to stay in the old Raj style Imperial, but it's become part of a chain so this time I opted for a backpacker cheapie in the lively Paharganj area,
handy for New Delhi station and the train to Agra.
Delhi in pictures.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

India: Amristar

Tuesday 24 November: Bright yellow pilgrim bus (35th mode of transport) to the serene jewel-in-the-crown of Sikh worship - Amristar's Golden Temple. Unlike Muslim Mecca, pilgrims of all creeds are welcome. A lunch of vegetable curry, rice, dhal, chapatis and a delicious rice pudding with fruit is served up with practiced ease - the massive food hall churning out 60,000 plus meals a day, every day. Food, dorm accommodation and the pilgrim bus are free, though a small donation is expected and willingly given. Bumped into Kevin again as we raced here from the border - he won.
A trek away from the vicinity of the temple finds a roadside shack 'English Wine and Beer Store' and my first beer for a long long time . . . ice cold.
Amristar views.

Pakistan and India border

Monday 23 November: Autorickshaw, local bus and a short rickshaw ride to stay the night at the Pakistan border post of Wagah. Why? - to see the bizarre daily border-closing ceremony - of course. Taken very seriously by the military on both sides who face-off against each other to the cheers of crowds whipped to a frenzy by a flag carrying cheer-leaders - to me it looks more like a Monty Python Ministry of Funny Walks sketch - both sides being nuclear powers does take the humour out of it a somewhat. Met up with Kevin who cycled there for the same reason.
Pakistan and India border pictures.
Next day across the border to India - must be the only border in the world that actively encourages photography, you can just see Kevin and his heavily-laden bike.

Thursday, 19 November 2009


Thursday 19 November: Arrived 8:00 am at Lahore City Station and made a bee line for Regale Internet Inn in Regale Chowk - a traveller's favourite with dorm beds, kitchen, twin-tub washing machine, Karim international supermarket on the corner and unique access to Sufi religious ceremonies courtesy of the influential owner, Mr Malik. Touched base with Kevin who from Tullamore who had cycled from Ireland following much of the same route I had taken.
Autorickshaw (34th mode of transport) to Lahore Fort with it's magnificent gateway completed by Emperor Akbar in 1566 is surprisingly pretty inside complimented by the beautiful red sandstone and white marble Badshahi Mosque opposite.
Mr Malik (sitting between the drummers) organised an afternoon of Sufi religion Qawwali singing at Data Dabar and an evening of Sufi spinning and whirling dancing, free apart from the rickshaw. An hospitable family insisted on buying us all afternoon tea in the park and showered us with farewell gifts of Sufi bracelets.
Lahore Museum also a real delight - I especially liked the art, the bits of rubble from the Berlin Wall and Kim's Gun described by Kippling in his great novel, Kim.
Lahore pictures.

Pakistan: Taftan and Quetta

Monday 16 November: Often described as hell-on-earth, Taftan is the border town on the edge of Pakistan's lawless state of Baluchistan. Decided not to stay the night (the only 'tourist hotel' had closed) and await the twice-monthly freight train to Quetta due sometime the next day. Tried to keep a low profile on the truly bone-jarring overnight bus ride on pot-holed dirt roads through gravel desert to Quetta - only hit my head on the roof twice.
Quetta photos.
Wednesday 18: Over reacted to the bus discomfort and took a relatively expensive 1st class air-conditioned 24-hour sleeper train (33rd mode of transport) from Quetta's delightful little station to Lahore. A senior railway official travelling in the same compartment with myself, a government cadre and a young physician from Yemen insisted, under protest, on buying all my food and drink - hospitality is important in Pakistan.
After several hours the air conditioning was freezing and we were all wearing jackets and overcoats. I stayed in the warm corridor, cloudy with desert dust, for a while. When I explained to the railway guy why I preferred to be in the dust he instantly arranged for the whole carriage to have warm air conditioning. 'I am very sorry Sir, I thought the Scottish liked it cold' - Pakistan hospitality!

Iran summary

Water: Bottled mineral water cheap and readily available. You can drink the tap water in most cities but it tastes earthy in desert areas.
Drinks: Beer - Various malty drinks (0.0% alcohol), a few actually taste like beer. Tea - black tea available everywhere. Coffee - less so.
Toilets: Mostly upright and squat in hotels, places to visit and trains. Squat only in public and cafe loos.
Rial (currently £1 = 15,000 rial).
Language: Farsi (Persian) both spoken and written - Salaam alaykum is hello and goes a long way. Most youngsters and those in the tourist trade speak some English.
TICs: Helpful with free local town maps and guides if available.
Accommodation: B&B is the norm
Food: Meat and chicken kebabs with rice and salad are common everywhere. Breakfasts are, more often than not, a fried egg, white cheese, butter, carrot jam (tastes better than it sounds) and honey with flat bread and black tea (Çay).
Supermarkets: Widespread but anonymous and hard to find, look for shopping trolleys in shop doorways.
Transport: Trains are cheap, comfortable and less than half the price of buses, 1st class sleepers especially so, book ahead if possible.
Buses are quicker but more expensive.
Medical: Good quality health care available, doctors will treat visitors for a fee.

Bam and Zahedan

Saturday 14 November: Arrived in Bam and the Akbar Tourist Guesthouse. The town was devastated by an earthquake in 2004 and, though many still live and trade from shipping container boxes, it is gradually being rebuilt in brick reinforced with steel. A Japanese traveller was kidnapped from Bam's streets in 2007 by one of the local drug lords. Someday tourists will return. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office warns against travel to and east of Bam . . .
Bam photos.
Early 6:00am bus east to Zahedan where most travellers are given a police escort. Slipped through the security net to share a taxi to the border with a couple of Pakistani guys, wonder if I stand out in a crowd?

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Persian Gulf

Wednesday 11 November: Overnight bus to Bandar Abbas and bumpy half-hour speed boat (31st mode of transport) to Qeshum Island and town. Next day pick-up truck taxi (32nd mode) south, along the coast, to the historic port and the, traditional and attractive air-conditioning, wind towers of Laft.
Qeshum Island photos.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Kerman and the Klauts

Friday 6 November: Arrived at the expensive, but good value, Akhavan Hotel in the desert city of Kerman. Comfortable, stylish room plus very good restaurant serving a set multi-course 'buffet' dinner with 'beer' for 90,000 rials (£6). Visa extended fairly painlessly.
Sunday 8: Day trip by local shared taxi to Mahan and the Aramgah-e Shah Ne'matollah Vali, a climbable dervish tomb, with views from the rooftop and twin minarets. Also, a three mile walk north is Bagh-e Shahzde, qanat irrigated walled water-gardens on the edge of the desert.
Monday 9: Local bus day trip to Arge-Rayen a great mud-brick citadel, now uninhabited, above the town of Rayen.

Tuesday 10: Finally relaxed in Kerman bazaar, the Masjed-e Ganjali-khan mosque and restored Hamam-e Ganjali-khan opposite now bathouse museum with fine tilework and amusing frescoes. In the afternoon I was kindly given a tour of the Sanati Museum of Contemporary Art by attractive artist Efat Takalloo. Her gallery of paintings of historical tiles, a real the highlight, unfortunately all sold, as a collection, to a dealer in Singapore.

Wednesday 11: Expensive 'dar baste' (closed door) private taxi 100 miles into the Dasht-e Lut Desert to see the Klauts - a spectacular landscape of wind eroded 'sand castles' stretching 150 miles across the arid plains.
Photos of Kerman and around.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Susa and Choqa Zanbil

Monday 2 November: Early local bus from Ahvez to Shush (biblical Susa) and the grubby overpriced Apadana Hotel. Not much to see in town apart from the 'castle', built by the French to protect their archaeologists against hostile tribesmen and the pine-cone shaped dome of Daniel's tomb.
The real delight and reason for visiting the area is the red brick-built Choqa Zanbil ziggurat UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built before 7th century BC it's the world's oldest example of Elamite architecture. Only the base and lower levels remain of the original five storeys but the outer kiln-fired bricks appear new with legible cuneiform inscriptions, the world's first written alphabet.